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NOAA seeks comments on petro industry effects on arctic fauna, subsistence

Posted: December 23, 2011 - 1:08am

Alaskans will soon be able to comment on a draft environmental impact statement describing how offshore oil and gas activities in the U.S. Beaufort and Chukchi seas could affect marine mammals and the Alaska Native communities that depend on them for subsistence.

The document also examines measures to lessen potential effects.

The draft EIS was released Thursday. It looks at measures NOAA could adopt over the next five years as it authorizes incidental deaths of mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the area. The EIS will also help the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management make decisions on issuing permits for seismic surveys.

As part of its analysis, NOAA examines various measures to minimize any potential harmful effects from sound, discharge of pollutants and presence of vessels that can be part of these operations.

NOAA and BOEM will hold public hearings in eight North Slope communities in late January and February 2012.

“The times and building locations of the public hearings in Barrow, Kaktovik, Kivalina, Kotzebue, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay and Wainwright will be announced early in 2012 in the Federal Register and through a public notice,” according to NOAA’s statement.

After receiving public comments during the 45-day comment period and from the public hearings, NOAA will finalize the environmental impact statement in 2012.

Arctic mammals have been the focus of much attention in recent years. From the reported drowning of polar bears in 2004, which put the charismatic mega fauna on the front lines of climate change activists, to more recently, when NOAA announced the unusual deaths of ringed seals in the Arctic and Bering Strait regions. A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on making such a declaration for Pacific walrus in Alaska is pending.

“Since mid-July, more than 60 dead and 75 diseased seals, most of them ringed seals, have been reported in Alaska, with reports continuing to come in. During their fall survey, scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also identified diseased and dead walruses at the annual mass haul-out at Point Lay,” according to a NOAA press release.

Comments must be submitted by Feb. 13, 2012. The public can submit written comments via mail, fax or email.

Comments may be mailed to: James H. Lecky, Director, NOAA Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East West Highway, Room 13704, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Fax comments to 301-713-0376, or email arcticeis.comments@noaa.gov

To read the draft EIS visit 1.usa.gov/sKkQdR.

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